Tag Archives: feminism

Jewish comic Lynn Ruth Miller on Hanukkah in Germany and #MeToo

London-based American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller continues to guest-blog here as she tours the world. Last week, she was in Germany…


Manuel Wolff invited Lynn Ruth to his Boing Club in Cologne

I flew to Cologne to perform at Manuel Wolff’s Boing Comedy Club.

75 years ago, to say the very name ‘Germany’ made my family cringe.

Now, in 2018. I was celebrating my version of Chanukah in that very country and loving it. It is a new world isn’t it?

Lisa, Manuel’s assistant, and I walked the lovely, clean streets sparkling with holiday lights… December in Cologne is alight with Christmas though, to my surprise, I didn’t see a menorah anywhere. Are the Jews still in hiding there?

Since Lisa and I are liberated, modern women, our conversation crept to the big issue women are facing today: the #metoo movement. Our concerns were women’s status in the arts and how we can achieve a level playing field in our professions. Our conversation was especially interesting to me because Cologne was the start of the outrage that blossomed into #metoo. Remember?

New Year’s Eve 2016 in this city, hordes of North African men assaulted white women who were out on the town, celebrating. The press blamed it on the discrepancy between western cultural mores and those in Africa.

“The relationship with a woman, so fundamental to Western modernity, will long remain incomprehensible to the average [refugee or migrant] man,” declared Algerian author Kamel Daoud in Le Monde.

But the #metoo movement has confirmed that it isn’t men of color or rich men or poor men; it is MEN who use women as toys. And that sweeping statement is the root of everyone’s uncertainty about the validity of this plethora of women who have accused men of sexual assault in their past. Every rational person knows that it is only the attitudes of  SOME men, but certainly not ALL of them.

“The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference”

Lisa and I discussed the opportunities for woman to achieve prestige and affluence as easily and quickly as men in Germany and the UK. Both of us are in fields where inequality of opportunity is most apparent. The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference. We two were fighting the same anger. We both have experienced gross injustice in the system, limiting the progress we were trying to make in our careers.

I often wonder if these glass ceilings are more excuses we make for people simply not appreciating our talents. The answer is that it is impossible to be sure.

Statistics certainly support the theory that women have less of a chance to progress in any field or earn as much income for the same work. To me, just being aware of this and talking about the insult that creates is a huge step forward. In my day, this dichotomy was simply accepted. It was a man’s world.

After we finished trying to fix society, I went to my hotel, took a nap and tarted-up for my headline performance at Manuel’s Boing Comedy Club.

The show Manuel creates is fast-paced, professional and funny. He is a superb host and knows just how much to involve his audience, who are mostly German but fluent in English with a mixture of English-speaking students and a smattering of people from all over the globe. The comedians made a point of coming up to me and introducing themselves to me. The audience loved to laugh and the comedian who preceded me was so professional I was terrified to have to follow him His name was David Deeblew. He finished his act by juggling plastic bags in the air while he spoke. I am someone who can barely walk in a straight line when I am sober. You can imagine how intimidated I felt.

Headlining at a show with two intervals means that I must amuse a pretty drunk and very tired audience. Thank goodness it worked and everyone laughed (or I THINK they did. My hearing is definitely NOT what it used to be).

The best part of the evening, though, was afterwards.  

Lynn Ruth and the godfather of stand-up comedy in Germany

All the comedians stayed afterwards to drink and talk about anything and everything. One of the people who stayed was Johnny ‘Hollywood’ Rotnem, an American who is the so-called godfather of English stand-up comedy in Germany. He was the one who started the clubs that are now all over the country. Comedy in German has really taken off here despite the fact that everyone thinks Germans do not have a sense of humor. The number of successful clubs in the country proves that stereotype wrong.

I will be back in Germany soon to do Andy Valvur’s club at Fiddlers Pub in Bonn. Andy is a former San Francisco comedian who knows all the people who were the big names in comedy when I was there.  

We had a place called The Holy City Zoo where Robin Williams among many others cut their teeth on stand-up comedy. Famous people like Will Durst, Johnny Steele, Larry Bubbles Brown, Michael Meehan… all of them began there.

Andy came to my show at Boing Comedy and I felt like I was experiencing a bit of comedic history when I spoke to him about how comedy has expanded, improved and changed.  

Comedians today no longer stick to the rigid set-up/punch-line formula.  I think that is a mistake. Too many words spoil the joke just as too many cooks spoil the broth.

The next morning, I had to get up early to catch the plane to Frankfurt for my two-day comedy workshop and show.

After I arrived in Frankfurt, I crashed until 3.00 pm, then set out for the comedy class. This was a group of ten people who had tried comedy before and wanted a boot-camp kind of refresher. They were from a variety of countries and only two of them spoke English as their first language.  

It must be unbelievably difficult to do humor in a different language from your own, but these people were up for it and all their jokes had huge potential. The two hour class actually lasted four hours but I am satisfied that we gave everyone the personal attention they needed.  

The next day, their assignment was to bring in five minutes of material to practice for a show that night. I thought these people had huge potential and I was very excited to see what the result would be of our intensive joke analysis.

Four of the students joined me for dinner after the show and I got to know them a bit better.  

“It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer”

In the group was Tom from Finland, Pedro from Portugal, Julian from Germany, Clem, a lovely woman from France, Kirthy from India and me from America. It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer together and talking about comedy as a profession even though all of the others work at other jobs. We drank a lot of alcohol. It helped.

The next day was our final class and then the show. We all critiqued each other and, to my delight, all the criticisms incorporated what I had taught: short set ups, strong punches, direct sentences.

The group not only had to master language differences but they had to let go of material they loved that wasn’t working well. They did it and the show was great.  We all went out for dinner afterwards to celebrate.

I had a 7.00am flight back to London and had to battle the German version of Ryanair. For some unknown reason, my backpack registered something lethal and not only did they keep me standing for a half hour waiting for the police to come but, when the officious inspector went through the backpack, he just tossed everything in a pile and let me put everything back together. Of course, there was nothing in the bag but a notebook of jokes, a lot of tissues (just in case) and an American passport.

That might have been what set the detector off. America is not popular these days.

The incident was truly minor, but I was terribly upset and couldn’t seem to regain my equilibrium.

I suspect this is why psychological warfare is so effective. I had done nothing but was made to feel like a dangerous criminal.  

The good news is that the rest of the trip home was lovely and I managed to get through UK passport control relatively quickly and home to bed because I had to get to Top Secret Comedy Club that night.

Which I did.

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Lynn Ruth Miller on the warmth of burlesque and off-putting US comics

Lynn Ruth Miller doing burlesque in San Francisco

After a brief pause for the last two days of my blogs on the late actress Jacqueline Pearce, London-based American comedian and late-blossoming burlesque performer 84-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller continues tales of her experience returning to the US for three weeks of gigs in and around San Francisco…


This afternoon I met with Beth Lemke, an enterprising woman who started a wine bar in Pacifica where the majority of the establishments are blue-collar, junk food and cheap.  

The odds were against her in every way and yet, seven years into it, she has a profitable business that supports her in the Bay Area where the cost of living is over the moon and out.  

I always love being with her because she confirms my idea that you make the life you get. 

No-one needs to be a victim. 

No-one needs to shut up and take it. 

And Beth does not in any way. 

Her new thing is travel and she is planning several trips in 2019. Hopefully a return to London is one of them.    

Tonight I returned to Jim Sweeney’s Hubba, Hubba. Jim is the one who really established me in the burlesque scene here in San Francisco. Dottie Lux picked me up later and has been a wonderful loyal supporter but it was Jim who booked me over and over again. 

Tonight I did our old classic – Johnny Mercer’s Strip Polka – with the two songs I composed to go after it and then I tried Zip out on a San Francisco audience.

I was a bit uncertain about Zip because it gets standing ovations in London – but it has several British references.

I need not have worried. It was a triumph!!! 

Several of the girls remembered me and the audience went mad for me, which is a very feel-good situation.  

I stumbled around on the stage singing my classic Strip Polka number although I certainly did not polka. I did not want to risk ending up in an emergency ward. And I followed this with Zip.  

Most of the audience was standing by now. You would have thought that watching an old lady play with her zipper would have put them all to sleep. It did not. I will never understand why the burlesque community does not care that I cannot dance, cannot sing and I have a body that should have been trashed years ago. 

Nothing in this vast world of ours is predictable, is it?

Burlesque communities worldwide are not only more accepting of every age and body type but are actively welcoming. I have found this so in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bridgwater, Bristol and here in the San Francisco area. I think women who do burlesque are far less judgmental and far more anxious to give everyone the latitude to prosper being themselves.  

Even more interesting, the women in comedy over here are very off-putting and determined to assert their own excellence and demean anyone else’s. 

In London, women support and love one another and it is a pleasure to share a stage with them. Here in the US, it seems that we are in a competition which is a definite lose/lose situation.

Everyone’s comedy is unique to them and is as it should be.  

A performance is not a contest.  

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comedy critic Copstick on cosy British feminists, sex and a Kenyan catastrophe

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

In the last two blogs, comedy critic Kate Copstick told me how she became disillusioned as a lawyer, discovered cocaine in children’s TV and met Jimmy Savile. Today’s blog, from a chat at The Grouchy Club, brings her story up to date.

“So you were a children’s TV presenter in London,” I said. “How did you end up writing for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh?”

“I was rent-a-gob female for ages on TV,” she said.

“Rent-a-feminist?” I asked.

“Oh, you’re joking!” Copstick replied. “Good God no! Do I look that humorless? I’m not anti-feminist. I just find it very irritating… Not everything is the fault of men. There were women who used to have to fight for stuff in Britain but I work most of the time in Kenya now. Women there really, really have to fight and terrible things happen to them. Appalling things. I see the real fight women have to fight in Africa: the terrible way they are treated. Then I come back to Britain and find some twat of an actress has gone on Facebook saying Aw, we were hosting a serious play and someone said Nice tits! and I would really have thought blah blah blah blah… Hashtag EverydayMisogyny.

“If you really, really care about women and women’s rights, then in Britain we’re doing kind of relatively OK. Why not come with me to countries where women are really doing very badly? If you care so bloody much, come with me and help them. Don’t sit here and get outraged because in Britain some woman has five children, is adopting a third, can only work every third Monday and then only until 5 o’clock in the afternoon and is complaining because she’s not chairman of the bloody company board.”

“So,” I said, “you were a rent-a-gob female but not a feminist…”

“Yes. And I did loads of TV gameshows. I hosted a couple for the BBC. But, at the same time, I was doing lots of writing.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Sex,” said Copstick. “Mainly sex. Stick to what you know. They say that in comedy. In writing too. I could have written about Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law, but it just never had the sales potential that sex and alcohol did. I wrote for FHM magazine. I did a column called Stuff Your Face With Copstick. I used to take famous men out for lunch and we’d get reasonably drunk and then I’d write about what I remembered of it and it seemed to go down well.”

“I’m sure you did,” I said.

The Erotic Review led to comedy reviews

The Erotic Review led to comedy reviews

“Then,” said Copstick, “I interviewed Rowan Pelling, who was working for the Erotic Review. She was posh totty. The Arts Editor of The Scotsman – Robert Dawson Scott – sent me down to interview her. He liked what I wrote and (in 1999) he said What about coming and devastating young people’s dreams in August for a month (reviewing comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe) and I thought Weyhey! That sounds like fun! The Darth Vader effect seemed to suit me and I did more and more writing.”

Copstick now owns The Erotic Review and is the doyernne of comedy reviewers at the Edinburgh Fringe but, for around six months of each year, she works in Kenya.

“You have a charity in Kenya,” I said to her.

“Yes. Mama Biashara, which is Swahili for Business Mother. I get people who are really up to their nipples in horror and – I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person – I don’t do all that I feel your pain. Let’s go and talk thing. You can talk till the cows come home and it’s not going to do any good.

“No! You don’t empower people by talking. You empower people by giving them money and a skill so then they can tell the bad guys to fuck off. That’s how you empower people. Not by sitting and giving them ideas that are never going to come true.”

Mama Biashara gives people who previously had no hope small amounts of money and practical help to start their own self-sustaining small businesses.

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at new Mama Biashara well

“For a lot of the commercial sex workers,” said Copstick, “we have a thing called Kucha Kool (kucha is the Swahili word for finger nail) where they become roving manicurists. You have to start a business that plays to your strengths and the girls who come off the street we try to set up in hairdresser businesses or sewing or as manicurists.

“With the Kucha Kool girls, I give them a dozen assorted nail varnishes, emery boards and buffers and whatever else in a nice case and then they hit the ground running, because they can make 1,500 bob a day (a ‘bob’ is a Kenyan Shilling) and when you consider they got 40 bob for a shag, then 1,500 bob a day is pretty good.

“I buy all that in bulk here in Britain, where it’s cheaper, and then we can hand somebody a business start-up in Kenya.”

“You used to live in the Nairobi slums in a storage container,” I said.

“I have to live in the slums, really,” said Copstick, “because I can’t afford anything else and because I’m kind of obsessive about the money from Mama Biashara going to the women – the people – who need it. I pay all my own expenses. And it’s fine. Who needs to have an inside toilet? My gran lived perfectly well without one.”

“And where do you live in Nairobi now?” I asked.

“Well, thereby hangs a tale,” said Copstick. “Just before I went into my first show at the Fringe (at the beginning of August), I got a text from Kenya saying: Call us! Call us! It is a disaster! 

“In the slums, we had set up a little house. The front of it was mbati (corrugated metal). The sides were stone. The back was bits of wood. And the roof was a patchwork of everything. I was describing it to a friend in Kenya and he said: Oh, that is a very random house. So we called it The Random House. It was the headquarters for Mama Biashara, with loads of stuff there, blankets, lots of hair dryers to start hairdressing businesses, three sewing machines which I had just bought, loads of medication and just everything to help people start up a business.

“You can hire men from the City Council. You pay them 200 bob and they will do any type of thuggery you want. Apparently at 4.00am on a Tuesday morning, about a dozen men from the City Council came to the compound where The Random House is, broke in, carted out on City Council handcarts everything that was inside and then brought a bulldozer and flattened it.”

Copstick returns to Nairobi on Sunday.

When I asked her last week where she was going to live, she told me: “The house has been knocked down, so I have absolutely no idea. I will just have to see when I get there.”

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Filed under Charity, Feminism, Kenya, Sex, Television

Comedian Malcolm Hardee’s first ever appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe

A6MalcolmHardeeAwards2014

I woke up at 5.20am this morning to a text message from comedian Janey Godley at the Edinburgh Fringe. It read:

“I got a loan of a bike. It was too big and I banged my fanny on it – In Edinburgh 10 minutes and I cracked my vag.”

Fringe fever has started early this year.

The joys of modern life near Stafford

Joys of modern life at motorway service station near Stafford

I am driving up from London to Edinburgh today, so I am writing this blog at the Costa cafe in Stafford service station on the M6 motorway.

This year’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held on Friday 22nd August. The three awards are in memory of ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ who drowned in 2005. So it goes.

Below is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, published in 1996. Amazon.co.uk’s current listing retains their own humorous and extensive balls-up in which it describes the book as an aid to classroom teaching.

In this edited extract from the book itself, Malcolm talks about the first time he appeared with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Fringe.


Malcolm Hardee's autobiography

Not a standard aid to class teaching

We did our first Edinburgh Fringe in August 1982, before it became so commercial.

That year, we were playing in a venue called The Hole in The Ground which literally was just that: a hole in the ground.  An ‘organisation’ called Circuit had erected a 700-seat marquee on this piece of derelict wasteland.

Also performing in The Hole in The Ground was The Egg Man, who was Icelandic years before Björk. His show consisted of a two-hour monologue performed, completely in Icelandic, to an audience of one in cave which was one of the ‘natural features’ of The Hole in The Ground. He used to auction the ticket for each show and a reviewer from the Scotsman actually had to pay over £50 to watch a performance of this two-hour Icelandic monologue. He couldn’t understand a word but, in a way, it was Art.

Today, this just wouldn’t happen as the big Agencies use Edinburgh to hype-up future short-lived TV ‘stars’.

That first year, the Circuit tent in Edinburgh held about 700 people.

I had stupidly agreed we’d do it for a ‘wage’ of £500 a week. In the meantime, we’d been on (the TV show) OTT, we were popular and we were selling the tickets out at about £5 a ticket. So they were making about £3,500 a night and we were getting £500 per week between the three of us. So I felt bitter again.

There was another lot performing at The Hole in The Ground: a group of feminists. They were called Monstrous Regiment. They were doing a play about prisoners. About how it’s not the prisoners’ fault they’re in prison. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all of our faults. All of that nonsense.

We were really poor that first year. We were performing in The Tent in The Hole in The Ground and we were living in tents next to The Tent. Edinburgh is always cold and it was even colder that year: it snowed.

Also that year, a German opera show had a pig in it and I had my tent next to the place where they kept the pig.

So, I was feeling bitter and feeling bitter cold.

At, the end of the week, Circuit decided to have a Press Conference and they put another tent up. They loved a tent. A big marquee. Commissionaire outside. Posh. We turned up and they wouldn’t let us in even though we’d been there a week and sold out our shows and everything. Well, we were naked, which might have had something to do with it. And not entirely wholesome. So we went and got dressed and eventually they let us in. But I was still bitter.

We went to this restaurant in the marquee and it was a bit of a posh do. Wine and all that stuff going on. Monstrous Regiment were there but their feminist dungarees were off and their public school cocktail dresses were on.

Then one of the Monstrous Regiment women – one I particularly didn’t like – got her handbag nicked. And she went berserk.

“Catch him!” she yelled. “Get the police! I want that man put in prison!”

So I said to her:

“It’s not his fault. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all our faults”.

At the end of all this, they asked one person from each show to get up on the bar and give a speech to the assembled Press.

By now, the Monstrous Regiment woman had calmed down. She got up on the bar and said:

“We’re doing a play. It’s about prisoners. It’s all Society’s fault and it’s a scathing indictment of Society”.

Then she jumped off the bar and the German with the pig got up.

“We’re doing an opera with a pig,” he said.

So we were next and I stood up on the bar, having told Martin to tug my trousers at the appropriate moment.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Press,” I started saying: “We’re The Greatest Show on Legs and we have a bit of a comedy show in that tent over there, but this is no night for comedy because I’ve just read in the paper that the great Glenda Jackson has passed away and, in the spirit of the Fringe,” – I had a real tear came out of my eye at this point – “I’d like to ask for one minute’s silence for a great actress.”

And they did.

Silence.

A whole minute.

I looked at my watch and the whole minute went by.

A long time.

Then Martin tugged my trousers and handed up my newspaper to me. I looked at it:

“Oh!” I said. “Not Glenda Jackson. Wendy Jackson. A pensioner from Sydenham….. Doesn’t matter then, does it?”

The tent fell even more silent than during the Minute’s Silence.

After a pause, a thespian in the front just looked up at me and theatrically projected the words:

“Bad taste!”

The ironic thing was that he was wearing a pink and green shirt at the time.

This was the beginning – 1982 – of a beautiful, long-running relationship between the Edinburgh Fringe and me.

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Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma on clowns, feminists, being a schizophrenic Fascist singer and living in a cave in Canada

nellyscott_24sept2013_cut

Nelly aka Zuma Puma talked to me in London this week

I have blogged three times before about the charismatic Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma – about her schizophrenic Fascist singing Nancy Sanazi character at the Edinburgh Fringe in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II and at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show… as part of the Fringe show Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret… and last week as host of the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows in London.

But I have never been sure how to categorise her. Actress, comedian, clown, puppeteer, singer/songwriter? She seems to do ’em all. I also made the initial mistake of thinking she was from the US. Never a good thing.

“I’m Canadian,” she reminded me this week. “Originally from St Catherines, Ontario near Toronto. Well, actually, I’m from everywhere. We moved around a lot.”

Zuma Puma grabbed two audience members last night

Nelly as Zuma Puma at the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows

“So what did you want to be as a kid?” I asked. “An actress?”

“My mother is a theatre director and my father’s a set designer,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “So I was just like doing theatre forever.”

In fact, aged 12, she was also dancing with Canada’s Opera Atelier. When she was 17, she had an award-winning role at one of Canada’s most prestigious theatres – the Shaw Festival Theatre.

“I was one of the witches in The Crucible in a 6-month run in the main stage,” she told me (without mentioning the award she got).

“That was when it all started,” she told me. “The woman who played Abigail in The Crucible became a great mentor for me and she had studied at Canada’s National Theatre School, which is where I wanted to go. But she said: Don’t go to the National Theatre School. I spent four years there and then I went to L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris and re-did it all and now I’m getting all the work… Gaulier’s a genius. If you can, just go straight to him.

Philippe Gaulier, memorable mime muse and more of Paris

Philippe Gaulier, memorable mime muse and more of Paris

“So, when I finished high school in Canada, I went to study with Philippe Gaulier in Paris. I showed up there thinking I was this very serious actress and just flopped every day for about six months. Every day I’d come on and Philippe Gaulier would say Oh you are this boring Canadian little rabbit lost in the forest taking a poo poo. Oh she is so beautiful. Wow. You love her. You want to fuck her every night of your life. That’s what he’d say every day and then he’d ask someone I had had a crush on in the class and they would say No, she’s a boring rabbit poo poo in the Canadian forest.”

“This sounds like some cult breaking down your personality,” I said.

“But I WAS shit,” insisted Nelly/Zuma. “He was training us to find the magic, to know how to identify it when we were on our own. And so, after six months of flopping every day trying to be this serious actress, we started the character section – character/clown/comedy – and I came out the first day and I stayed on stage for 15 minutes and everyone was laughing and I’d never… It was the best moment of my life… For some reason, all this time I’d thought I was a serious actress and it turned out that I was a lot funnier than I thought I was.”

“And after that you went back to Canada?” I asked.

Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

“I went from Paris back to Victoria, British Columbia,” said Nelly/Zuma, “where I lived in a cave with a man named Caveman Dan and then I hitchhiked to California and around California. I was singing at this time – R&B, Blues, jazz and a little bit hip-hop.”

“With bands?” I asked.

“Yeah, doing stuff with producers and musicians and all sorts of people for years. I ended up teaching at a circus school in Costa Rica, met a band there and toured with them to Peru for ten months. Kind of just being an idiot on the road.

“After that, I decided I wanted to finish my clown school in Montreal because I’d sort of started it and done little bits here and there.”

In fact, she studied puppetry at the Banff Arts Centre, completing L’Ecole Clown et Comedie with Gaulier’s Protege and Cirque du Soleil’s first clowns Francine Côté and James Keylon in Montreal.

“I had just finished the clown school,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “when my grandfather passed away in 2012 – he was British. We all came here for the funeral and, afterwards, my parents asked me When do you want to leave? and I said Give me an open flight and I’ll figure it out. Then I went to Buddhafield and met Adam Oliver (her cohort in Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe) at a hippie festival and came to London to visit Annie Bashford who I’d gone to Gaulier with.

Nelly as Nancy Sanazi at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

Nelly: Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe

“She was playing Anne Stank (a singing Anne Frank) in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night gigs with Agent Lynch playing Nancy Sanazi. Then Agent Lynch got picked up to perform with La Clique and Annie suggested me to Pete (Frank Sanazi) as his new Nancy Sanazi; I was only staying with her for a week.

“After doing Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, we had a few gigs lined up and Pete said Stay a couple of months so I said I’d stay until Christmas and I was also doing a double act with Annie back then – we were called Grumpy Lettuce.

“At the end of October, we did a show at Lost Theatre in London and the artistic director wanted to start up a cabaret night called Lost Cabaret at the Priory Arms in Stockwell and was looking for a compere, so I did that.”

“You’re certainly busy,” I said. “Do you have an agent?”

“No, I’d like one. Actually, I don’t know what’s happening with the Adam Lost Cabaret at the moment. He’s so busy producing a million and one things… Maybe we’ll do some double acty stuff in various places.”

“And then you’ve got these London Play Group workshops for adults that start next Wednesday,” I asked, trying to be helpful. “What are they about?”

Nelly (left) & Annie - Grumpy Lettuce

Nelly (left) & Annie – Grumpy Lettuce

“Well, replied Nelly/Zuma, “a bunch of adults will come and we’ll get absolutely ridiculous, have loads of fun, play ridiculous games together – just like playful children’s games – improvisation, clown games – like how to find your ridiculous self, how to become free in your self-expression on stage and how to bring that play into life. That’s what we’re exploring. Finding pleasure in life, connecting to people in a playful community and making friends with this hub of people who feel they don’t have enough play or laughter in their life because we’re forced to live this adult lifestyle. Finding a way to be ridiculous.

“I’m also starting a feminist theatre show as part of a group of four people. We’re just starting to talk about it. We feel there’s loads of feminist festivals all over the country that we’d love to tour with our bizarre show. We feel there’s a lot of angry feminists who have made it all about angry women who hate men and we want to bring it back to equality and involve men in feminist theatre and say a man can be a feminist too.”

“So there are men involved?”

“Dan Lees,” said Nelly, “who was in Moonfish Rhumba.”

“And so the bizarreness continues,” I said.

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Feminist female comedians agree there are different types of rape in Edinburgh

(This was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

In the final week of the recent Edinburgh Fringe, I chaired five daily hour-long chat shows. In the fourth show, the guests were Scots comedy critic Kate Copstick (always known simply as ‘Copstick’) and American comedians Laura Levites & Lynn Ruth Miller. There were several English comedians in the audience, including Janet Bettesworth and Bob Slayer. This is a brief extract:

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Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and  Kate Copstick

American performer Lynn Ruth Miller (left) & Kate Copstick

COPSTICK: As far as I’m concerned, the most strongly feminist comedian on the Fringe is Lynn Ruth – and Laura’s not doing too badly either. The amount of shit you’ve both taken and overcome without wearing the I’m A Feminist teeshirt and waving Boys Are Bad – Throw Stones At Them flags.

LAURA: To me, being a feminist is not about what you say, it’s about what you do. I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. You don’t say Look at me! Look at me! You just do things.

LYNN RUTH: I don’t think feminism is knocking down men. I love men. Why can’t we just be people? I don’t see any difference. I think men have the same insecurities as women.

LAURA: I think they have more insecurities.

JOHN: What sort of insecurities?

LYNN RUTH: Oh, they’re so worried about their bodies.

LAURA: Their bodies, their dicks. Every night I’ve had to lie in bed with a guy who’s drunk too much and blah blah blah you gotta listen to that shit. Oh my god! Shut up! But my biggest problem with feminists is they get mad when someone sexualises you. I like being sexualised. Objectify me! Talk about my tits and ass – Please!

LYNN RUTH: Nobody’s talked about mine in years.

LAURA: It’s like you can’t… If somebody says a woman’s pretty or…

LYNN RUTH: I like somebody saying that.

LAURA: Yeah. But, if somebody talks about a woman’s body, then all ‘the women’ get up in arms Arghh! You’re sexualising! But you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the way women look. They have things sticking out. Women have tits. Women have shapely bodies. How do you ignore that? I get so mad.

COPSTICK: I would give my right arm to be a sex object.

BOB SLAYER: There are some websites where giving your right arm would make you more sexy.

JANET BETTESWORTH: How do you feel about She was asking for it? You know, exposing bits, it’s late at night, she’s got a pussy pelmet, she was out on the street, so… She was asking for it.

COPSTICK: Well I genuinely believe – this won’‘t go down well, but – if you walk into Battersea Dogs Home with your legs covered in prime rump steak, you cannot complain if you get bitten.

LYNN RUTH: Yes.

LAURA: I agree.

COPSTICK: If you put it out there, someone’s going to pick it up.

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and Laura Levites agreed on men

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and Laura Levites agreed on men

LYNN RUTH: You gotta have the right look. In Redwood City, there were a lot of women who were constantly walking by a bowling alley and they were being attacked and they were being raped. And I had my two little dogs and walked by the bowling alley every day and I called up the police and said You know, I walk by there every day and I was waiting for them to say Well, YOU they’re not going to bother! But I mean I think I just don’t have the right look. It’s like, when you are afraid of a dog, it IS going to bite you.

COPSTICK: Exactly.

LAURA: But I think most women don’t understand the way most men view them. Whether or not you like it – it’s not about liking it or not – men do look at you like a sexual being. It doesn’t matter what you look like as a woman, there’s some dude that’s gonna want to fuck you. It’s absolutely true. If you’re walking down a street at night with parts of you exposed, it doesn’t mean you’re ‘asking for it’, but you have to be aware…

LYNN RUTH: It’s called good advertising.

LAURA: … people are going to respond to you. You can’t ignore the fact that you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the fact you shouldn’t drink too much with a man by yourself. you shouldn’t take strange men home with you. You gotta be careful and it’s up to you to own that responsibility and keep yourself in safe situations.

COPSTICK: I think we’ve only got one word for it, which is rape.

LAURA: Yes, we should have more words.

COPSTICK: At the moment, it’s ludicrous, but that one word covers both someone who is wandering along a road and some person completely unknown to her leaps out – which must be horrendous and terrifying and it’s not about sex, it’s about violence. It’s a very specific form of assault… That is one thing… That is horrendous… But then there’s some twat of a 19-year-old who dolls herself up, covers herself in make-up, goes out, gets shit-faced, gets a guy, gets more shit-faced, takes him back to her place or goes back to his place, takes some items of clothing off, starts playing tonsil hockey, has her nipples twiddled, starts playing the horizontal tango … It’s too fucking late to start complaining. It’s not his fault any more. You can’t go Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes – Oh! – No! – It’s not fair.

LYNN RUTH: I think the thing I’m feminist about is I don’t want women to use their bodies for currency. They can use their minds.

COPSTICK: Nobody wants your mind. I know this.

LAURA: What do you mean ‘currency’?

LYNN RUTH: They dress to get attention. I won’t say who, but there’s a comedian here in Edinburgh who slept with this guy because she wanted him to put her in the show. There are better ways to get in a show than to get fucked. Women can accomplish what they want in other ways.

COPSTICK: But can they?

LYNN RUTH: I have.

COPSTICK: You’ve never used your body to get what you want?”

LYNN RUTH: Never. Because I had anorexia and I was a mess. It’s really true. Nobody’s come on to me for 50 years.

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Why the Greatest Show on Legs started their infamous Naked Balloon Dance

This afternoon, I am driving to Totnes in Devon with comedian Matt Roper, who has started to describe himself as a homeless vagabond, though I prefer to think of him as an itinerant purveyor of comedic entertainment.

Being a ‘vagabond’ might imply dubious liaisons with women and goats… Of which more later.

Matt Roper claims I will like Totnes, because it is full of interesting creative people.

Martin and Vivienne Soan at home last night

Martin & Vivienne at home  last night

Coincidentally, last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner at Vivienne & Martin Soan’s home in South East London. Martin created comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs, famed for their naked balloon dance which included late godfather of UK alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee.

“Totnes is where we created the balloon dance,” Martin told me over dinner.

“I’ve never been there,” I said.

“It’s like a little model village,” explained Martin. “Perfect in every way. But full scale. Divorced rock ‘n’ roll wives in the 1970s decided that it was a good place to live.

“Malcolm had a liaison with one of these ex wives – I think she was an ex-wife of one of The Small Faces – and all these rock chicks had moved down there and just three miles up the road was Dartington College, which was the very first ‘free’ school which was very liberal and encouraged dramatic arts.

Totnes - like a model village but real... or maybe it is surreal

Totnes – like a model village but real… or is it maybe surreal?

“Totnes is like The Village in The Prisoner. It is perfect in every way. Not too many people. You have your drunks and you have your council house people. But, basically, all the locals have had four generations of acid-taking liberalism. Even the council-house crack-addict coke-head element has been gentrified and you get amazing sights.

“There used to be this one guy with a great big Afghan hound, an Edwardian suit and a waxed moustache who walked up and down like some latter-day rake.

“In the church, where Malcolm got off with a girl called Lucy The Goat Lady… That sounds very demeaning, but nicknames are easier to remember than real names… Her name was Lucy…

Aleister Crowley - "the wickedest man in the world"

Crowley “the wickedest man in the world”

“She said we could stay at her place, a big rambling farmhouse which belonged to Dick Heckstall-Smith, the English jazz saxophonist and in the grounds was this de-consecrated church. It had been de-consecrated because the occultist Aleister Crowley had bought the house years before and done secret ceremonies late at night. When the locals found out, they had the church de-consecrated.

“And, in the kitchen of the house,” Martin continued, “the Greatest Show on Legs reacted to the local extreme, over-the-top feminists who were living in this land of privilege and having weekly meetings about how they could wipe out Chinese foot-binding in Devon. Shit. They were all living in a bubble, really. It was our reaction to that. We thought up the balloon dance in the kitchen and we went to the Dartmouth Inn that night and premiered it.”

My eternally-un-named friend was a bit surprised.

“It was a reaction to feminists wanting to ban foot-binding in Devon?” she asked.

“The Greatest Show on Legs were feminists,” said Martin. “We weren’t sexist in any way.”

“That’s what I thought – sort of,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who knew Malcolm and Martin before I did.

“Though,” said Martin’s wife Vivienne, “they antagonised feminists all over the place.”

“Yes,” said Martin, “but they were feminists who weren’t really thinking. In actual fact, we were rather gallant as a group of performers.”

“You just went round fucking everybody in sight,” said Vivienne.

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan possibly/probably in the 1980s (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

“I was trying,” said Martin, “to think of a rather more poetic or lyrical way of putting it… We were young men and we enjoyed ourselves, but we did it in a rather gallant way.”

After you, Malcolm…,” suggested Vivienne. “No, after you, Martin… Oops, sorry Malcolm… After you…

“But, getting back to the balloon dance,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “What year was that?”

“I can’t remember,” said Martin.

“It would have been the 1970s, early 1980s,” suggested Vivienne.

“It’s like writing Malcolm’s autobiography,” I said. “He never knew which decade things happened in either.”

“Anyway,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “in this kitchen, you suddenly thought Ooh! Let’s do a strip with balloons!

“Because,” explained Vivienne, “they were reacting against the ultra-feminists who were trying to create a storm about Chinese foot-binding.”

“I don’t quite see the connection,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“We arrived there,” said Martin, “and just thought This is sick. They’re living in their own world. Everything’s perfect. What right have they got to complain? They’ve got nothing to complain about. To start being over-the-top feminists in such a rarified atmosphere… It just antagonised us….

“So we thought: I know! We’ll fucking take our kit off! And we were laughing. We were not thinking about it as creating a routine. It was as much a joke for ourselves. A stunt. Let’s take our kit off! But it went down such a storm that night, Malcolm and I thought Right. Let’s keep it in the show.

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

“So,” said Vivienne, “Totnes is now full of creative people who are probably all the children of these feminists.”

“And this goat woman…” asked my eternally-un-named friend. “She would be about 60 now?”

“Probably,” mused Martin. “Older. She was older than us.”

“She had a goat?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“She did have a goat,” replied Martin.

“Is that why she was called Goat Woman?”

“Goat Lady,” corrected Martin. “Not Goat Woman.”

“The Greatest Show on Legs were always very gallant,” I said. “What was the goat called?”

“John,” said Martin reprovingly, “I don’t know what the fucking goat was called. It didn’t have a name. I would have loved it if the goat had been introduced to me, but it was just there as the goat.”

“But goats have names, too,” I protested. “Bob Slayer went round Australia with Gary The Goat.”

“That’s slightly different,” said Martin.

“You’re the one who calls women ‘ladies’,” I argued. “Goats deserve respect too.”

“Eat your pudding,” said Vivienne.

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Filed under 1980s, Comedy, Travel